Home Our Work Our Publications Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: Status Offenses

Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform: Status Offenses

Status Offenses: 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 


  • Illinois Supreme Court Prohibits Incarceration of Youth for Underage Drinking: The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision prohibiting the incarceration of a youth for underage drinking. The Supreme Court’s opinion clarifies that the Juvenile Court Act’s prohibition of commitment of a youth to the Department of Juvenile Justice for a status offense encompasses underage drinking. The opinion reinforces the “statutory policy of promoting the development and implementation of community-based programs to prevent delinquent behavior.” In re Shelby R., 2013 IL 114994, filed September 19, 2013.

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  • California — Los Angeles Reforms Truancy Law
    The Los Angeles City Council amended the county’s truancy law, which allowed Los Angeles police to issue tens of thousands of “truancy tickets” to L.A. schoolchildren, even when they were on their way to class. Such tickets carried heavy fines and unnecessarily criminalized youth. Police may no longer issue tickets to students who are on their way or running late to class. Sanctions for the first and second offense are limited to counseling, development of an attendance plan, and/or community service, and third and subsequent offenses may result in a fine not exceeding $20 for any individual youth. The change follows recommendations made by the Los Angeles County Education Coordinating Council and policy changes adopted by the Los Angeles Police Department. Ordinance No. 182084, April 13, 2012.
  • North Carolina Limits Detention for Certain Status Offenses: North Carolina youth who are alleged to be “undisciplined” and have willfully failed to appear in court, or who are considered “runaways” may not be detained for more than 24 hours. Previously, such youth could be detained for a maximum of 72 hours. H.B. 853/Act No. 2012-172, signed into law July 12, 2012; effective October 1, 2012. 

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  • Kentucky — Supreme Court Mandates Higher Scrutiny of Charging Process for Youth Facing Possible Prosecution for Status Offenses: On January 1, 2011, the Supreme Court of Kentucky adopted uniform Family Law Rules of Procedure and Practice to address the disparities and diversity that currently exist among the various local rules of practice within Kentucky’s courts. A segment of these rules impacts how status offenses are handled in the state. Court Designated Workers (CDWs)—who work for the court system and are the gatekeepers for all status and public offense charges—must now require school systems to provide complete documentation of interventions used to help students—especially those with educational disabilities—charged with status offenses. Likewise, parents who want to bring beyond-control charges against their children must establish for the CDW which community resources they have used to assist them with their children.

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  • Georgia — General Assembly Limits Detention of Youth Convicted of Status Offenses and Low-Level Misdemeanors: The Georgia General Assembly shortened the maximum length of time that certain youth can be held in the state’s Short-Term Program (STP) from 60 to 30 days. STP is a dispositional option that results in a short-term detention placement for youth. The legislation builds on a law from 2005 that shortened the maximum STP stay from 90 to 60 days, and additionally narrowed the offenses for which youth can be placed in the program, limiting it to youth convicted of felonies and “high and aggravated” misdemeanors (S.B. 134/Act57). The aim of both pieces of legislation is to keep youth convicted of status offenses and low-level misdemeanors out of detention and to serve them more appropriately and effectively in the community. Simultaneous with the 2009 legislative change, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice shifted STP youth from placement at Youth Development Campuses—which tend to be for more serious offenders and are generally further from youths’ home communities—to Regional Youth Detention Centers, which are designed for low-level offenders and short-term stays. The average daily population of youth held in the STP has declined from nearly 1,000 youth in FY 2004 to approximately 170 youth in FY 2011. H.B. 245/Act 36, extending H.B. 245 to 2013, signed into law and effective April 21, 2009. H.B. 1104/Act 674, signed into law June 4, 2010; effective July 1, 2010.
  • Kansas — Legislature Passes Law to Keep Status Offenders Out of Detention: Kansas now prohibits the use of detention or jail for youth under age 18 who are arrested for underage possession or consumption of alcohol. The law is an effort to ensure that youth who commit status offenses are not locked up, in accordance with best practices and the requirements of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. S.B. 452, signed into law and effective July 1, 2010.
  • Washington — State Comes into Compliance with Federal Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders Requirement: Thanks in part to Washington’s work with the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative, in 2010, the two largest of the four Secure Crisis Residential Centers (SCRCs) co-located in juvenile detention facilities closed. SCRCs are used to house youth reported as runaways or youth believed to be in a dangerous, unsafe situation. Prior to the closures, four of the nine total SCRCs in Washington were co-located in secure juvenile detention facilities. The closure of the two SCRCs enabled the state to come into compliance with the deinstitutionalization of status offenders (DSO) requirement of the federal Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act.

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  • Connecticut — Budget Includes Increased Funding for Status Offender Programs: In 2007, Connecticut’s Public Act 07-4 mandated that the state provide Family Support Centers (FSCs) for high-need status offenders and their families. FSCs are designed to proactively provide these youth and families with the supports they need to prevent entry into the delinquency system. As of September 2009, only four of ten planned FSCs were funded/opened, serving only 39 of the state’s 169 municipalities. In 2009, despite a budget crisis, the legislature acted in favor of the cost-effective investment in prevention and included funding for six additional FSCs in its state budget. H.B. 6802/Public Act 09-3, effective September 8, 2009.
  • Louisiana — Families in Need of Services Commission to Make Recommendations for Reform of Status Offense Policies and Practices: A Senate Concurrent Resolution created the Families in Need of Services (FINS) Commission to study Louisiana’s FINS system, including how the state handles youth who commit status offenses. The legislature directed the commission to make recommendations regarding the key components of a model status offender program and to consult with the MacArthur Foundation’s Louisiana Models for Change initiative, among other stakeholders. The commission issued its final report in January 2012, which recommends limited use of detention for youth who commit status offenses; use of alternatives to detention and appropriate graduated sanctions; and gathering and analysis of data related to the FINS system in order to track outcomes. Calcasieu, Jefferson, and Rapides parishes served as models for the commission, having reduced the numbers of youth processed through the FINS system for status offenses between 2006 and 2010, thanks in part to partnerships with schools, more effective detention screening, and infrastructure review. S.C.R. 44, passed June 27, 2011.
  • Massachusetts — Supreme Judicial Court Strikes Down Criminal Provisions of Municipal Curfew for Children Under 17: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court invalidated the criminal provisions of a juvenile curfew ordinance from the City of Lowell, holding that the ordinance violated the constitutional rights of minors. The ordinance provided for both criminal and civil sanctions, including a substantial fine, arrest, adjudication as a “delinquent child,” and commitment to the custody of the Department of Youth Services (DYS). The court found that the curfew ordinance violated the fundamental right of freedom of movement and the equal protection clause because it treated people differently based on their age. The court held that minors possess “fully formed constitutional rights” and that the ordinance’s criminal sanctions were not sufficiently narrowly tailored to achieve the government’s goals. It also found that the criminal sanctions contradicted well-established goals of rehabilitating, not incarcerating, youth offenders, stating that the “criminal prosecution of a minor, with its potential for commitment to DYS, is an extraordinary and unnecessary response to what is essentially a status offense and is contrary to the State’s treatment of similar conduct.” Commonwealth v. Weston W., 455 Mass. 24 (2009).

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Photo: Leo Reynolds, under Creative Commons License